What Is A Sous Chef & What Are They Responsible For?
A Sous Chef is second in command after the Executive Chef in a professional kitchen. This means he or she answers to the chef, but also has some authority over the other kitchen staff. Many of the terms that relate to cooking and cuisine in a professional setting are French.
Sous is French for under, so you can see how the sous chef would work directly under the leader of the kitchen.
If the Chef is unavailable or off for the night, the sous chef is in command, and the kitchen staff is expected to offer the same respect to him or her as they would to the boss. Often times, a Sous Chef will work in the role for several years with the goal to move on to become an Executive Chef.
In this way, the role is considered practical training for career growth.
What Does a Sous Chef Do?
It’s important that a sous chef be intimately familiar with all the activities of the kitchen and be prepared to do them in a pinch. He or she will prepare and cook food, and know all styles of cooking done in that kitchen, including such skills as French, Italian, and Fusion cooking.
The Sous Chef is also responsible for overseeing the kitchen staff, which may involve scheduling or dealing with personnel conflict.
The Sous Chef of a kitchen will also make sure that the food a restaurant or commercial kitchen is using is of top quality, and that staff are being mindful of the cost standards that come with the food. For instance, if a steak costs $10 per 8 ounce serving, it is important that staff do not serve 12 ounces, costing the restaurant in oversight.
As assistant to the Executive Chef, the Sous Chef will help with menu planning, inventory, and managing of supplies. He or she may also aid in making sure the kitchen is up to safety standards, and that staff are obeying sanitation rules.
Being a Sous Chef is not an easy job. During mealtimes, it’s important for them to be quick on their feet and be able to make smart decisions instantly. They often work for long hours with little of the overall credit, but creativity will be the element that helps him or her shine on the way to becoming chef.
Leading by Example in the Kitchen
While Sous Chefs do not have complete authority over the kitchen, it is important that they be strong leaders as well as team players. Being able to communicate with staff is key, especially when stress mounts and tempers rise.
To succeed, a Sous Chef should lead by example, keeping stations clean, preparing foods properly, and cooperating with others. He or she should make decisions that get the best out of every situation, and ignore his or her ego if it arises.
A Sous Chef should have respect for the Executive Chef, and value the Chef’s decisions at all times. That being said, the Sous Chef should not be afraid to offer suggestions or creative ideas that can improve upon the kitchen’s performance.
How to Become a Sous Chef
One of the most important steps in becoming a sous chef is gaining kitchen experience. You may have to start by washing dishes or cooking fries, but every experience you gain puts you one step closer to your career, and it can take years to work up the ranks.
It's also important to build a relationship with one particular chef. That may mean following him or her from one kitchen to another.
Another important step is to study at a culinary school. There are many located worldwide that offer completion at top-notch programs in as little as two years. Check to see what sort of job placement rate the schools offer when you apply.
Keep in mind a city with a high level of tourists, like Orlando, will probably have a higher placement rate due to the sheer number of restaurants in the city.
You will need to be dedicated, creative, and determined to succeed as a Sous Chef. You will need patience to deal with difficult staff and customers, and communication skills to ensure your staff feels like you consider them a part of your team.
How Much Does a Sous Chef Make?
The salary you earn just out of culinary school will depend on the city, your restaurant, and your skills. You can expect to average between $25,000 and $50,000 per year.
The requirements may vary for a sous chef position, as some require just a bit of education and more experience in the kitchen, while others look for a culinary degree. No matter what you do to get there, however, remember that being any member of the kitchen is a valuable experience.
As you grow and develop, you'll learn where your strengths are, and you can capitalize on those to build a strong, profitable career in the kitchen.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.